Young Adult Fantasy Series: Worth Reading?

cover of three young adult fantasy series i read: Ash Princess, Three Dark Crowns and The Bear and the Nightingale

Here I am again with three other young adult fantasy series I started reading. I feel that I am always starting a new series and that I will never come to read them all. At this point there are so many… Here are the three I will discuss this time:

  1. Ash Princess (Ash Princess Trilogy, #1) by Laura Sebastian
  2. Three Dark Crowns (Three Dark Crowns, #1) by Kendare Blake
  3. The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy, #1) by Katherine Arden

Are these three worth the read? Let’s find out!

Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian

I don’t even know how I came across this book, as it is not one of the hyed YA fantasy novels I usually pick up. I remember picking this up alongside Dread Nation by Justine Ireland as soon as I heard about them on Booktube. FYI, I DNFed Dread Nation, despite the many positive reviews on Goodreads, a whooping rating of 4.15/5?!

But I am rambling, I am here to discuss Ash Princess. This is a fantasy book set on an island once ruled by the Fire Queen. But ten years ago the Kaiser takes over the island, killing the queen and taking the young princess Theodosia as a prisoner. Today, Theo lives captive in her mother’s palace crowned as the Ash Princess, which means what during balls and gatherings she has to wear a crown made of ash which throughout the night disintegrates covering her in ash and soot.

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Theo all she wants is to survive but surviving might not be enough. Her people are enslaved and she might be their only hope.

Well…the premise is decent enough and I was intrigued. Let’s see what happened…

Overuse of Young Adult Fantasy Tropes

The problem with this book, in my opinion was the poor world building. I did not see more than a glimpse of the world outside the palace, nor the suffering of Theo’s enslaved people apart from the servants working in the castle. But if this goes as a typical young adult fantasy series, the world may be expanded in the second book.

The other issue I had with this book is the main villain, the Kaiser. He was unnecessarily cruel to Theo. Is he hated her then why not kill her the was he killed her mother? What are his motivations? Why is he cruel and evil? What is the point of humiliating her continuously and letting her live more or less free in the palace? I wanted more of the Kaiser’s background, to see and understand where his evilness came from. But I guess that’s the way some YA books are written, without explanation. We just have to take things as they are presented. But in my opinion this is just lazy writing.

If you think there might be an underground rebellion brewing then you’re absolutely right. Guess who’s going to become the head of that rebellion. I’m not going to spell it out, but been there, seen that. And just to mention a couple other books with a similar premise: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, or even Divergent by Veronica Roth.

It was a decent enough read but I have read so many books with similar premises and overused tropes that my enjoyment level was decreasing by the page. It was an easy enough read so I guess I would recommend it if you still like these type of books with princesses, evil rules, romance, and rebellion.

But have I told you about the love triangle? Yes, there’s one of those as well. Between the childhood friend and, surprise surprise the Kaiser’s son, prince Søren (why the Danish name though?).

Will I continue with this series? The answer is a definite NO. Usually I continue series I felt lukewarm towards, but there has to be at least an element in the plot, or a character I am invested in. But there is nothing compelling me to want to read the next book in the series.

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Completely by chance, this one is also set on an island, and this one is considerably more hyped than Ash Princess. Three Dark Crowns is set on the island of Fennbirn, where every generation a set of triplets are born, three queens, each with equal right to the throne, and each in possession of a unique magical power. When they become of age these sisters have to fight each other to the death and the winner gets the throne.

Love the premise! Again, there’s a lot of mixed reviews out there but I personally enjoyed this one. I gave it three stars.

The magic system is based on elemental magic. Each of the sisters has a different power. Arsinoe is a naturalist, Mirabella and elemental and Katherine a poisoner. Arsinoe is not expected to win, Mirabella is the strongest, and Katherine has the more powerful and feared allies.

The sisters have been brought up in three different parts of the island, each in a community with affinity to their own powers. This is done so they can grow up learning about their powers and so they forget about their sisters.

There’s a lot of politics in this, and a subplot with a love triangle. At this point I might as well accept the love triangle plot as a requisite of a young adult fantasy series.

I expected a dark and twisted tale but I was disappointed. For much of this book not much happened and I’m afraid this book too falls into the same mistake as many other YA novels (for example The Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty), because it ended in a massive cliffhanger. So you’re compelled to want to read the next book. I don’t understand why the publishing industry keeps stretching these young adult fantasy series so thinly. You have the first book, in which for about 80% nothing happens to then end it in a huge cliffhanger which should have been the plot twist. Olive from abookolive drives this point home so well in her review.

The titles in this series really confuse me!

So overall I enjoyed it, and felt compelled to pick up the next books but I have finished book three (Two Dark Reigns) which felt like filler book. And let me tell you, the battle for the throne does not happen until book two, One Dark Throne. I am let down. This could have been a great, long and juicy standalone and instead we got a dragged out quartet. The last book, Five Dark Fates, will be out in 2019. Will I read it? Probably! Will I be disappointed? Probably!

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Based on Russian folklore, The Bear and the Nightingale is a magical story set at the edge of the Russian wilderness where summers are short and busy and winters last long and are full of fireside stories. This was so hyped on Booktube and I, eventually, gave into the hype and read it.

Our main protagonist is Vasilisa, who loves to listen to fairy tales at wintertime. After her mother dies Vasilisa’s father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife who is very devout and forbids the honoring of household spirits. The family assents but Vasilisa fears that these rituals everyone does out of habit are more important than they thought. And for sure, bad things start to happen, crops fail in summertime and evil creatures from the forest creep into the villages. As danger crawls nearer it is up to Vasilisa to defy everyone she loves in order to save her family and her village from the vile creature who seems to have stepped out of her nurse’s frightening tales.

I am not that into these types of fairy tales, I would call them the traditional ones. I enjoy modern fantasy novels but since many raved about this one I gave it a go. And I was not disappointed!

This book is slow to start and feels like reading a fairy tale but, in my opinion, the more you get into it the better it gets. You just have to get into the world and the characters and then as things start to make sense and as the plot forms you simply get entangled in the story. I love the mix of fairy tales and household spirits into the story. It gives it such an otherworldly dark and scary atmosphere.

Vasilisa’s stepmother brings religion/fanaticism into the mix which then creates this tension in the village and Vasilisa’s home because in this community everyone is religious but at the same time they still live according to the old customs, honoring household spirits out of superstition.

Vasilisa (Vasya) is a fierce, independent and stubborn young girl who is always out to chase adventure in the forest. You feel from the start that she is one with nature and that there’s more to her than meets the eye. There’s just something wild and untamed about her and as the story progresses you will find out why.

I loved the beautiful and lyrical writing, the dark otherworldly atmosphere, the forest and household creatures and most of all our main protagonist. This one should be read during winter next to a blazing fire as winter is such an integral part of this story. I highly recommend it!

Conclusions

Overall, I enjoyed two of these books. Three Dark Crown has such an amazing premise and I recommend it but as I read book two and three I felt let down. I don’t understand why the publishers decided on a quartet when this could have been a great standalone.

My enjoyment of The Bear and the Nightingale came as a surprise. So I understand where the hype comes from. It is a magical story, well written and well constructed. I might pick up book two at some point but I feel that book one stands well on its own, despite the open ending.

Ash Princess was a let down and I do not recommend it. There are just too many YA fantasy cliches in this one for my liking, the mean without a reason main villain, poor captive princess who joins a rebellion to save her people, the love triangle… No, no and no!

Check out other posts in this young adult fantasy series.

  1. I discuss Scythe and Daughter of Smoke and Bone in the first part,
  2. The Cruel Prince and Children of Blood and Bone in the second, and
  3. The Kiss of Deception in the third.
  4. I even have one in which I write about the companion novellas to some of the most popular young adult fantasy series, like The Throne of Glass and the Red Queen series.
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